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Compiling a list of seven all-time Kings of Country Music is no easy task, especially knowing many of country music’s biggest stars through interviews over the years. I have my favorites, and many of them are in the top seven; some of my favorites did not make the top seven but would definitely make the top ten or twenty.

Future Kings

In country music today, Luke Combs comes to mind when discussing a possible future King Of Country music, as does Chris Stapleton, Cody Johnson, and many more.

Blake Shelton

Blake is also a future King of Country Music as he brought country music to many American living rooms through his coaching of future country stars on NBC’s The Voice. Blake knows how to pick and write great country songs. He has won many awards, including Entertainer of the Year, and also honors those country stars before him and the Grand Ole Opry. If the list were 10, Blake would have made it for sure.

All-Time Kings Of Country Music - Blake wearing a black blazer at the Opry.

Blake after being asked to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2010.
Photo – Rick Diamond/Getty Images 

Keith Urban

I love Keith and his music, and I listen to him all the time. Keith’s shows are also epic, and he involves his audience more than anyone else. A two-time Entertainer of the Year winner, it was hard for me personally not to put him in the top seven, but he would be in the top ten. And no one can play a guitar like Urban can. If the six-string instrument had an ambassador, it would be Keith.

Urban says he will love being a mentor on The Voice when he takes on the role of Mega Mentor on the April 8 episode of NBC’s The Voice.

He told us how appearing on the talent shows when he was young helped him. Keith said, “Just getting good advice and honest advice was something I really loved and needed, so it was a no-brainer when I got asked to do it. The first one I got asked to do was be a coach on The Voice in Australia on their first season, and I did it. I loved it. Then I did quite a few seasons of American Idol as a judge on American Idol and loved it.”

All-Time Kings Of Country Music - Keith Urban playing guitar on stage wearing black.

Keith played guitar at the 2022 CMT Music Awards.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Toby Keith

Toby made such a difference in country music and deserves his upcoming induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year (2024). His passing in February made all of us realize once again how good his songs were and how much joy and humor they brought to us over the years.

All-Time Kings Of Country Music - Toby Keith held his AMA Awards in 2004.

Toby is holding two AMA Awards in 2004.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images 

Top 7

Below are my top seven all-time Kings Of Country Music. One thing is for sure: each of these seven country superstars has made an impact on country music and beyond.

RELATED: Tim McGraw: The Stage Fixture That Keeps Him Steady

All-Time Kings of Country Music

  • 7 - Alan Jackson

    To prepare for this list, one of the albums I listened to in its entirety once again was Alan’s 1999 album, Under the Influence, where Jackson sang classic country songs from the artists that influenced him, like George Jones (another king of country), Merle Haggard, and more. As I listened, I realized Alan sounded like he was born to sing country music.

    That Impactful Song

    Jackson’s songs have made such an impact on country music through the years, including the song he wrote after 9/11 in 2001 called “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning.” That song spoke for so many of us trying to wrap our heads around the tragic terror attack on that fateful day. It was a rare country song that crossed over without using any pop production techniques: it was just a song that resonated with millions of people, regardless of their preferred genre.

    Entertainer of The Year

    Alan was crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1995, 2002, and 2003. Many of his songs became country anthems and inspired today’s country stars, including Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and more.

    Hall Of Fame

    Standing tall, Jackson is for sure a King of Country Music and someone who will be remembered for that for years to come. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2017.

  • 6 - Willie Nelson

    Willie is a name that everyone, even those who don’t know much about country music, knows and loves. He’s worked in many different genres and has really transcended genre, but he remains a country singer at his core.

    Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame

    Nelson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2023. Chris Stapleton was a part of that tribute. Stapleton was backstage at the CMA Awards (11/8) in Nashville, holding on to his seventh Male Vocalist trophy, and shared what he considers one of his most significant career moments.

    Chris told us, “Well, that was an incredible thing for me to get the call from Willie to come and be a part of him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve never been to any Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event.”

    Stapleton recalled in part, “It was one of my favorite musical moments maybe that I have ever had in my life. To sit there… The gravity of that moment… it didn’t hit me because, like I said, we go through these rehearsals, and everything is kind of out of order; you don’t know what’s happening. I was sitting there, and his sons were behind me, and it was just a wonderful moment to get to be a fly on the wall sort of sitting there alongside Willie Nelson, who is obviously a huge influence and a hero.”

    CMA

    Willie won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year in 1979. He has won countless awards through the years, including winning 12 GRAMMY awards.

    Movies and Music

    His movies and music have defined country music through the years, and at 90 years of age, he is still touring and making music.

    Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. Over his amazing career, Willie wrote thousands of songs and has had his songs recorded by Patsy Cline (“Crazy”) and Elvis Presley (“Always On My Mind”).

  • 5 - Kenny Chesney

    Kenny’s contribution to country music runs deep. He has won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award four times in his career in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Chesney won the same award from the ACM in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

    Stadium Tours

    His stadium tours have brought millions of fans together to listen to their favorite country star in stadiums all over the country. In the summer of 2024, his “Sun Goes Down” tour sold out stadiums all over the U.S., including three nights in Boston alone.

    CMT

    Kenny was the very first country artist to win a CMT Music Award for Video of the Year at the show’s debut in 2002 for his music video, “Young.” He has steadily charted country music songs and brought many to number one from the late 1990s to today.

    Beach Country

    The country superstar’s love of all things ocean and beach has brought country music to the seashores and islands, giving more people a chance to hear that unique country sound.

    Song Master

    In talking about picking songs for the 2024 Born album, Chesney told us, “When I look for songs, I obviously feel like I’ve got to have a little bit of me in it, but that’s not always the case. I look for songs that pique someone’s interest. I look for songs that give somebody the courage to take a chance in their own life. I look for songs that give somebody the courage to fall in love or actually to get away from someone.”

    Kenny is a song master and definitely a King of Country Music in his own right.

  • 4 - Johnny Cash

    I’ve been thinking about this list for weeks and asked one or two friends and family members who they think would be the all-time King of Country Music. Without fail, all of them had Johnny Cash at the top of their list. Then I got to think, yeah, Cash is the one artist that anyone, whether a country music fan or not, thinks about and associates country music with. He has been the inspiration for many country stars today. And he’s inspired a lot of rock and rollers too: that makes sense. In his early days, he was labelmates with Elvis Presley. Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison at Sun Records. Decades later, when Rick Rubin (a hip-hop and heavy metal producer) signed him to American Recordings, he brought Cash to a new and younger audience via his covers of Tom Petty, Soundgarden and especially Nine Inch Nails (“Hurt”).

    Other Artist’s Influence

    Keith Urban told me once that he fell in love with country music after his father and he saw a Johnny Cash concert as a kid in his native Australia.

    Dolly

    Dolly Parton told me of the first time she saw Johnny Cash perform, “He was just magnetic, and I was a young girl and in the audience, and I was maybe thirteen, and that was my first experience of what sex appeal was and thinking grownup thoughts. I always kidded him that he was my first crush, my first grownup crush.”

    His Legacy

    As a journalist, I never interviewed Cash; he was before my time, but I did see him in person at a show taping one time, and I interviewed his siblings, Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash, for a radio special and heard many first-hand stories about the Man In Black. I also covered his funeral service in Nashville in 2003. At the funeral (north of Nashville in Hendersonville), everyone from Nashville and Hollywood was there, including actor Joaquin Phoenix, who played Cash in the 2005 movie I Walk The Line.

    Hall Of Fame

    Johnny Cash’s influence and music were like no other in country music, and there will never be another like him. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. You simply cannot count Kings of Country Music without the name Johnny Cash.

  • 3 - Tim McGraw

    Tim is what many of his contemporaries call a “song master.” McGraw has a knack for picking the right songs to record at the right time. While he does write songs himself, he doesn’t often record his own songs, choosing instead to record the best songs whether or not he wrote them.

    Number- One Songs

    Since his career began in the early 1990s, he has been steady with his song selection and has scored number-one songs consistently in three decades. His career has lasted that long, and that is a tall order for anyone in country music to achieve.

    McGraw also has a style that is like no one else. His career with his wife Faith Hill has also been a reason he is one of the Kings Of Country Music, as the couple is often referred to as “Country Music Royalty.”

    Acting

    Taking cues from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson before him, Tim also dove into acting in Hollywood and became a great and convincing actor. One of his most recent roles was in the Paramount series 1883, where he played opposite his wife Faith and, in my opinion, gave an Emmy-worthy performance as James Dutton.

    Awards

    McGraw consistently tours and has won countless awards in country music, GRAMMYs, and beyond. There is no doubt in my mind that in a few years, he will get the honor of being invited into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    And let us not forget the name of Taylor Swift’s very first single on the radio… “Tim McGraw.”

  • 2 - Garth Brooks

    Garth is a name associated with country music and always will be. His career started in 1989 in Nashville, and by the early 1990s, he was all anyone in any music circle was talking about. His live shows were like nothing country music had seen before, as his energy was boundless on stage and infectious. Other country singers had played arenas before, but Garth was the first country artist to really create an arena rock spectacle.

    Setting Records

    It was Brooks who started setting music records in all of music and sold more albums than almost anyone in music, getting to a point where his numbers surpassed Elvis Presley’s. According to the RIAA, Garth has sold over 157 million albums.

    Entertainer of the Year

    Brooks brought so much to country music, winning the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year seven times and then taking his name out of the running himself in later years so other artists could win the career-defining award.

    Gracious and Kind

    I have been fortunate to have interviewed Garth many times in my career, and he has always been gracious and kind. He has a way of making everyone he talks to feel like the only person in the room. He often asks about yourself and even makes a point to recall moments you’ve told him about before. His personal touch with people has undoubtedly helped him become so loved in the industry.

    He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

    Brooks has never let his music videos live on YouTube, so finding a music video to attach to this story was a challenge for sure. We shared a promo clip from his new docu-series on Amazon, “Friend In Low Places.”

  • 1 - George Strait

    George actually is referred to as King of Country Music, and he has earned it. Strait had scored over 60 number-one songs in his incredible career, which started when he began playing songs in the Army in the 1970s.

    No-Brainer

    He is a no-brainer for the all-time King of Country as many artists on this list followed him and cite him as “The King,” including Garth Brooks, who often talks about his country music hero.

    My Interview With The King

    George has always been a bit elusive, and to interview him is a big deal in Nashville. I have been fortunate enough to interview the “King” twice in my career, and he is as gentle and sweet as you can imagine. I found he was a lot like he is on stage, showing style and grace with a smile.

    One of those interviews was in 2012, when he retired from touring, saying he would only do special events. He told me of his choice at the time, “I wanna quit doing it before they quit coming. I sort of had 60 being in the back of my mind as the magic number and thought it might be time for me to think about it. And so, after a lot of thought and sleepless nights, I just feel like I’m making the right decision.”

    Made Good On His Promise

    The King upheld his promise to do special events and concerts. He played in several big city stadiums with Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town in 2023, with more dates set for 2024.

    Honors

    Strait has sold nearly 70 million albums and earned more than 60 major entertainment industry awards, including induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

    George is the all-time King Of Country Music in my book, and I think many of you would agree.

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